NOTE: An abridged version of this column appeared in the July 25, 2017 issue of the Daily Local News, Page A7, under the title: “Reminder of the Worth of Water.”

“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water,” Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1746. Today, that aphorism continues to ring true, especially here in Chester County where residents have seen their water rights repeatedly threatened by corporate giants in recent years.

Earlier this month, more than a dozen homeowners in West Whiteland and Uwchlan Townships were given a harsh reminder of Franklin’s saying when their well water was interrupted or contaminated by Sunoco Pipeline’s drilling operations related to the Mariner East 2 pipeline project. Consequently, some wells have already run dry and others could become inoperable over time.

Sadly, the situation with Sunoco is just another example of corporate profits being put before individual water and property rights, while the very state and federal government agencies designed to protect citizens appear inept, incompetent, or in cahoots with special interests. After pouring over hundreds of pages of documents related to Sunoco’s permit to begin drilling from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), I discovered that the permit was approved despite the inclusion of data on nearby residential wells that is obviously insufficient and incomplete. In fact, so inadequate was the list of private wells that in addition to missing owners’ names, addresses, proper locations, well use descriptions, and other vital information – it only included 22 entries (three in Chester County) of private, residential wells that could be impacted along Mariner East’s more than 300-mile route in Pennsylvania.

As a result, when Sunoco began drilling and subsequently damaged an underground water supply, many of the residents whose well water was impacted with sediment, discoloration or low pressure, had never been notified 72 hours ahead of the drilling as specifically required in the DEP permit.

Keep in mind, Pennsylvania remains one of only two states that do not regulate the siting of intrastate pipelines. DEP only has authority over the permitting process when a proposed pipeline crosses a body of water, such as those that feed local wells. At the end of the day, DEP is the only agency with regulatory power over the placement of pipelines in the Commonwealth and it appears to have fallen woefully short in protecting local residents and our environment.

And it’s not just pipelines. DEP appears to be failing to protect our water resources as a whole. Another example lies just a few miles away in East Whiteland where homeowners are facing serious concerns about potential water, soil, and air contamination at the former Bishop Tube site.

Initially, a developer planned to remediate the site for industrial and commercial use. However, plans have since changed and the developer now aims to build a residential community there in phases, with a partial remediation of the site.

In the past, TCE, or Trichloroethylene, a manmade chemical that is commonly used as an industrial degreasing agent, and other hazardous contaminants have been found in the property’s groundwater, soil and indoor air. TCE is a carcinogen and can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system (not something you want in your water, air or anywhere near your home).

Meanwhile, new information is coming to light that the level and size of contamination at the site may be far greater than originally thought. It seems that DEP is not even sure of where the underground plume of contaminated groundwater ends. It may, in fact, stretch much farther and DEP now plans to test wells up to a mile from the site.

Although southeastern Pennsylvania is not home to natural gas drilling and has seen relatively nominal financial benefits from the impact fee, our region is crucial to the pipeline network because the gas needs to cross our neighborhoods, parks, waterways, streets and open spaces to get to market. In addition, we’re home to dozens of exceptional and high-value streams and watersheds, including the Pigeon Creek, Valley Creek, and the Broad Run – resources that under the Pennsylvania Constitution “are the common property of all people, including future generations to come.”

While we’d be foolish not to recognize the economic advantages of the Marcellus Shale boom, as well as brownfields reclamation and redevelopment projects like that proposed for the Bishop Tube site, we’d be foolhardy to believe our government agencies are doing all they can to protect our residents and their rights.

If DEP and others were meeting their Constitutional obligation to defend our rights to clean air, pure water, and environmental preservation, I’ve no doubt that residents throughout our area – myself included – could have at least some peace of mind. But that hasn’t happened and until it does, we must continue to remain vigilant, stand up for our water rights on the local level, and demand that government does more to safeguard our right to fresh water. After all, we can’t live without it.

State Senator Andy Dinniman, of West Whiteland, represents the 19th Senatorial District and serves on the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

 

 

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